I was playing Defenders of the Realm at GenCon with a friend who’d never played it before. After we set up the pieces, each player got the card with their side quest. He got all excited at the prospect of getting this really cool weapon for his character. As we played, the board filled with evil minions. The rest of us ran around putting out fires (literally, the villain was setting things on fire) while he chased his side quest. About halfway through, he looked down at the board and said, “Wow. I really don’t have time to do this, do I?” His dithering around on that side quest, instead of helping us defeat the dragon generals, ultimately cost us the game.
I’ve given up a side quest. Which was hard, because I really, really like it. I’ve been writing and editing a newsletter at work, and I’m not ashamed to admit I did it well. In fact, that was becoming the problem. You see, I’ve been trying to finish a full length novel. But as much as I love the newsletter, it’s a lot of creative writing work, and I started wondering if I was using my writing energies on that rather than devoting them to my true goal.
Life is more like board games than i’d like to admit. The key to winning is to remember what, exactly, constitutes winning. But just like that game of Defenders of the Realm, chasing a side quest could take so much time away from my true goal, I jeopardize achieving life’s victory conditions. But unlike a game, life doesn’t come with a rule book defining the victory conditions. So I have to ask myself what my true goals are. The great part is I get to pick! Also, the terrible part is I have to pick. I know there have been times where I wished life came with a handy rule book that spelled them out for me.
Not that other people haven’t tried to tell me what the victory conditions for life are. It sometimes seems everyone is out to tell you what it means to succeed in life, or to fail at it. Advertisements. Pop culture. corporate culture. Heck, some of the worst messages came from my own family. My brother once called the community college I attended “Harvard by the highway”, not-at-all-subtly implying I’d failed at life because I wasn’t at a four year university.
Thus, the side quest. It’s easy for me to go haring off after some shiny objective because someone else said I should. It’s simpler to plot the career path others say is the best one for me. And it’s really FUN to track down trivia for newsletter articles in my increasingly limited free time.
I need to say goodbye to the side quest. Workplace newsletters don’t get a book published, and I’m increasingly convinced that my real contribution to my job is the projects I have yet to start. I have the capacity to accomplish amazing things; ironically, the newsletter proved that. Now it’s time to abandon the side quest and devote my time to achieving those amazing things.
I’ll miss the trivia, though.